Parental guidance is advised

Robyn Bartlett, DRS
Robyn Bartlett, DRS

Modern parents need to realise that the minute their children have access to the internet, they’re going to come across content that they shouldn’t see. They will be exposed to things that they aren’t mentally and emotionally equipped to deal with. With this rather sobering fact in mind, Sarah Hoffman, director at The Digital Law Company, advises that parents shouldn’t just give their child a smartphone and leave them to do whatever they please. “It’s a bit like handing them a loaded gun. Parents have to play an active role in their child’s online life; they have to be involved.”

According to security awareness coordinator for DRS, Robyn Bartlett, being a part of your child’s online life is about building a relationship based on trust and understanding. Don’t ban your children from using the internet because then they’ll just find alternate ways to get online when you’re not looking. Instead, make sure they know that they can come to you and talk to you if they need to. And if you do opt to put a monitoring app on your child’s phone, be upfront about it, she adds. “Explain to them why you’re doing it and what you will and won’t be able to view,” Bartlett says, noting that most of these applications are designed to pick up certain key words using algorithms and then alert parents accordingly.

The reality is that parents can’t keep an eye on their kids 24/7. As such, Fortune Mgwili- Sibanda, policy and government affairs manager at Google South Africa, believes it’s important that children are taught how to handle any unsavoury situations or interactions. Google’s Web Rangers programme, for example, aims to teach children to be good digital citizens. The programme gives youngsters the confidence to explore the internet and understand how to set the right boundaries when they’re online. “Parents should teach their kids to be kind and brave online. Being kind to others means making sure that all of your online engagements are respectful and responsible. Being brave is about teaching children to report any instances of inappropriate behaviour.”

Virtual background

Bartlett agrees, noting that sometimes the danger lies in their existing social circles. Around 90% of teens who use social media have ignored bullying they’ve witnessed, and one third of children have been victims of cyberbullying themselves. “Social media and online games are today’s virtual playground, and, unsurprisingly, this is where a lot of bullying takes place,” she says. Aside from the obvious risks when it comes to online predators and cyberbullies, parents also need to remember that many of these devices and apps can be addictive, says Hoffman. Children lack the frontal lobe development to control their impulses and regulate their responses so they need our help.

Great resources for parents include the website Common Sense Media, which provides a range of entertainment and technology recommendations for families. Parents can also check out the American Academy of Pediatrics, which offers a comprehensive list of screen time guidelines for children so that you can put the right measures in place to regulate how much time your children spend online. In addition, parents should consider setting up a smartphone contract, which you can find on The Digital Law Company’s website. This document is an understanding between children and their parents, detailing appropriate and inappropriate usage and outlines how and when parents can monitor online activity. “Parents have the right to check what their children are doing online. In fact, it’s their responsibility. Your children may object to this, but the right to privacy is earned. “If you’re the one paying for the smartphone or tablet, I believe you have a right to keep an eye on how these devices are being used.”

Talking TikTok

Hugely popular with primary school children, TikTok is a video-sharing social networking service. The – up to 60 seconds – videos posted on the platform are predominantly made up of viral challenges, pranks and short dancing/ singing sequences. This may seem harmless enough, but TikTok is also a breeding ground for predators and grooming, says The Digital Law Company’s Sarah Hoffman. Children can easily access a wide range of explicit content on the app, she continues. Parents must tailor the safety and digital well-being features on apps like TikTok to limit how much time your children spend using it. Hoffman also advises that any children using TikTok must have their account set to ‘private’.

Online Lingo

If you want to keep your kids safe, you need to speak their language. Here are a few slang terms to keep you in the loop.

IWSN I want sex now

GNOC Get naked on camera

NIFOC Naked in front of computer

PIR Parent in room

CU46 See you for sex

53X Sex

9 Parent watching

99 Parent gone

1174 Party meeting place

THOT That hoe over there

CID Acid (the drug)

Broken Hungover from alcohol

420 Marijuana

POS Parent over shoulder

SUGARPIC Suggestive or erotic photo

KOT Kiss on the lips

(L)MIRL Let’s meet in real life


TDTM Talk dirty to me

8 Oral sex

CD9 Parents around/ Code 9

IPN I’m posting naked

LH6 Let’s have sex

WTTP Want to trade pictures?

DOC Drug of choice

TWD Texting while driving

GYPO Get your pants off

KPC Keeping parents clueless

This article was originally published in the March 2020 issue of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine.

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